Kyle Van Noy is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency after the season. Fortunately for the Patriots, there is a player with a similar skill set available in the draft if they want to go that route as insurance in case an extension never happens. Justin Hollins from Oregon presents a potential low-floor, high-ceiling player in the middle rounds of the draft. The Patriots have been known to take undersized edge rushers and convert them to either an on-ball or off-the-ball linebacker.
Arm: 33 3/8”
Hand: 10 3/8”
Broad Jump: 9’11”
5-10-5 Shuttle: 4.40
- Moves well in space
- Strong burst on speed rush
- Good closing speed on the ball after beating the blocker
- Played DE, OLB, and ILB in college
- Needs to add 5-10 pounds of muscle before getting a more consistent role on defense
- At times gets swallowed by blockers in the run game on the edge
- Inconsistent motor as a pass rusher
Reasons Why the Patriots Would Draft Him
Hollins’ length and athletic abilities already make him a solid fit for special teams duty, which paired up with a potential high-upside edge rusher makes for a solid middle round gamble. Hollins is not only capable of being a force as a rusher, but he also has the ability to drop into coverage and can move well in space. Bill Belichick likes having edge rushers who are equally as capable to drop as they are to rush the passer, especially from a 2-point stance. His long term fit on the team is the Van Noy, on-ball linebacker role although he’s also athletic enough to move off the ball should he prove to not be able to hold the edge.
Reason Why the Patriots Would Not Draft Him
Hollins is not going to provide much value on defense in Year 1 despite all the reps he got at Oregon, which is why I project his ceiling as a mid 3rd round guy. Belichick may be more interested in edge rushers who are more likely to make an impact in the rotation as a rookie with similar long term upside in the middle rounds and may pass on Hollins until the 4th round or later. Given there are three teams that are looking for similar players that Belichick looks for, there’s a good chance he gets snatched up before the Patriots have another chance to grab him.
Who He Needs to Beat Out: No One
It really depends on the roster construction. The Patriots already have 4 linebackers on their roster, all of whom I project as roster locks, with 2 of them capable of playing the on-ball role. Given that Hollins has high upside as a rusher and is a natural fit for the kicking game, they may carry him as a 5th extra linebacker even though he doesn’t offer much value in Year 1.
Rookie Year Projection
There isn’t much Hollins’ will offer defensively in his first year with the team outside of special teams. He’s more of a mold-able athlete with a solid feel for rushing the passer. While he contributes mainly on special teams as a rookie, he’ll need to learn the playbook on defense and bulk up for when he gets his chance to contribute on defense later on.
Long Term Projection
Hollins would play the on-ball linebacker role, especially if Van Noy walks after the 2019 season. He would still be a major factor in the special teams rotation like Van Noy was in 2018 as his role grows more on defense. With Hollins playing on the edge, that allows the Patriots to use Dont’a Hightower and/or Ja’Whaun Bentley in the middle of the defense where the excel at. The Patriots will find ways to give Hollins advantageous matchups in the pass rush, either as a A-gap blitzer from the 2nd level, off the edge against less athletic tackles, or as a standing 3-tech against guards and centers. His upside on defense is basically Kyle Van Noy 2.0.
Grade: 3/5 Role Player
Hollins has a ceiling of a 4, but a floor of a 2 so I took the average of the two most likely outcomes for a grade. His role on the defense still depends on whether or not the Patriots are able to strike a long term deal with one of the key players on the defense in Van Noy.
For a 4th round gamble, perhaps even as high as the comp 3rd round picks, Hollins is worth a gamble. His ceiling is a quality contributor on all four downs, although it will take a lot of work to get him to reach his ceiling. He’s not a plug-and-play contributor like the Patriots’ last two 4th round pass rushers in Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise Jr., but the Patriots did take a gamble for a similar talent two years ago in Derek Rivers although Hollins doesn’t have the small school label whereas Rivers had more functional strength on the edge coming out.